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Strategizing the commons (4): The fallacy of the Subject

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
17th January 2013


* Article: Massimo de Angelis, Crises, Movements and Commons. Borderlands e-journal, VOLUME 11 NUMBER 2, 2012.

Massimo de Angelis has written an interesting essay on how to correlate the growth and re-emergence of the commons, with the rythms of the rise and fall of social and political movements, with a view on the transformation of the present society.

We’ll present it in five installments as a necessary thinkpiece for transformation-oriented commoners.

In this fourth installment, the author discusses the “fallacy of the subject”.

Key thesis: transformation can only occur if we transform ‘middle-class’ subjectivity

Excerpted from Massimo de Angelis:

“The fallacy of the model thus leaves us with the problematic of the development of alternatives as latency, as a period between the presence of alternatives and their explosion as dominant forms or modes of production. But this explosion of alternatives till the point of hegemony is not possible if these latent alternatives do not overcome existing divisions within the social body, within the working class, corresponding to the middle-class hegemonic sense of what constitute ‘betterment’, and therefore constituting ‘social order’ along a wage hierarchy. Not only capital’s systemic forces create divisions of power but the deals we cut with capital reproduce or reorganise divisions. A world in which these divisions are overcome is part of the puzzling equation that need to be solved in order to address our ‘how do we change the world’s meta-question.

These divisions cannot be overcome through ideological appeal to unity—as often these divisions are based on material condition, and ideologies do not constitute ground for hegemonic unity. To the extent the crisis intensifies and proletarises in conditions and prospects, it creates the condition for the flourishing of reproduction commons, domains of social action in which communities of all types, religious creeds, national or ethnical groupings and political persuasions pool or seize resources together and develop ways to increasingly meet their needs articulating their differences. It goes without saying that this is not automatic, as the crisis also pushes for divisions along these traits. Where it goes depends on organisational resources put on the ground. In many countries of the Global North, this depends on the ability of radicals, cosmopolitan commoners to mesh with the ‘mainstream’ and sustain productive interactions that give rise to reproduction commons and advance value practices that push open the boundaries of commons.

To develop such an attitude for strategic problematisation requires however that we come to term with the fallacy of the subject: the idea that somehow the ‘working class’ can be thought of as a unified body vis-à-vis capital, or if divided, could be recomposed through some sort of ideological terrain or some other cultural or income homogeneity or representational affinity. Instead, I want to pose its existing division— both objectively and subjectively—as a founding condition of the real, and problematise this division in terms of the radical transformation of the present. In another place (De Angelis 2010) I have problematised power hierarchies within the social body in terms of the ‘middle class’, which I define not as a homogeneous social group, with a given level of income, but as a stratified field of subjectivity disciplined to a large degree to the norms of behavior of a modern society in which capital has a fundamental role in organising social production through disciplinary markets, enclosures, governance and its profit-seeking enterprises. In other words, ‘middle classness’ is constituted through an idea of betterment and order achieved within the boundaries of capitalist system. I claim that from the point of view of radical transformation, one basic conundrum is that alternatives cannot be achieved neither with, nor without the middle class. And it is for this reason that I proposed the thesis of the ‘explosion of the middle class’ as a necessary element of this process of radical transformation. I understand this explosion as a sudden increase in the volume of social cooperation and correspondent release of playful energies, in such a way as to create a socio-cultural shock wave and corresponds to the emergence of commoning across borders and through the wage hierarchy, a commoning through which both borders and wage hierarchy are problematised and dissipated as result of social cooperation. The problematic of organisation is all inside the problematic of this explosion of commoning in ways that articulate three middle-class subversions existing in latent state: the subversion that goes on daily in terms of micro-practices of refusal of alienation; the subversion of middle-class condition brought about by the system in terms of its own proletarisation and economic and environmental impossibility of universalising betterment qua Middle Class; the subversion of middle class community when engaged in communication with the other as the foreigner, the migrant, the marginal.”

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